Editor's Note: This research note was originally sent to subscribers on April 28, 2014 at 10:01 a.m. EST by Hedgeye Consumer Staples analyst Matt Hedrick. Follow Consumer Staples on Twitter @HedgeyeStaples.
Last week we hosted a special call, Marijuana Legalization: The Debate Begins, featuring Dr. Beau Kilmer, co-director of RAND Corporation’s Drug Policy Research Center, to kick off a series of speakers on the topic.
Dr. Kilmer co-authored the book Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs To Know. Below we’ve summarized the first half of the book in which the authors provide a number of facts and figures on marijuana legalization. With increasingly more Americans supporting marijuana legalization – in fact a slight majority (54%) based on a recent Pew Research survey – we believe the data and studies provided in the book (while some are rough estimates and contested) offer a starting point for sizing up marijuana and the potential road to its legalization in the United States.
Chapter 1: What is Marijuana?
- The marijuana plant contains concentrated amounts of mind-altering chemicals known as cannabinoids.
- Marijuana (or cannabis) is neither a stimulant nor a depressant.
- THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and can vary based on the wide genetic diversity of marijuana.
- When marijuana is consumed as a joint, less than half of the THC is inhaled and absorbed by the lungs (the rest is burned up by the smoke).
- THC enters the bloodstream and begins to reach the brain within seconds.
- Ingesting marijuana orally (e.g. eating marijuana brownies) is less efficient, with smaller fraction entering the user’s bloodstream.
- Marijuana can be detected in a user’s system well after the high, therefore complicating testing in determining usage.
Chapter 2: Who Uses Marijuana?
- Globally, 125-200 million people use marijuana in the course of a year, or ~ 3-4% of the world’s population age 15-64, making cannabis by far the most widely used illicit substance.
- The prevalence of marijuana use in the U.S. is about three times the global average.
- In the U.S., 44% of 12th graders have tried the drug at least once, 6% are daily users.
- Marijuana use is highest among 18-25 year olds, with first use around the same time of alcohol use, ~ age 16.
- While marijuana did not achieve mass-market status in the U.S. until the mid-1960s, historically it is one of the oldest of the psychoactives.
- Hemp cord dates back 10,000 years and the first recorded use of medical was in China around 2700 BC.
- By the late 19th Century, marijuana was a common ingredient in many medicines and was widely available, however not consumed as an intoxicant until the early 1900s.
- By 1931, 29 states had criminalized marijuana (such movies as Reefer Madness propagated strong anti-marijuana government propaganda).
- Usage did not pick up until the 1960s. A 1967 Gallop poll of college students reported a 5% lifetime prevalence of use. In 1969 the same poll totaled 22%, and by 1971 51%.
- President Nixon signed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, which along with the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), created a scheduling system that place psychoactive substance such as heroin, LSD, and marijuana as Schedule I drugs.
- The Reagan administration in the 1980s increased anti-marijuana rhetoric with the “Just Say No” campaign and marijuana use dropped.
- However in the 1990s usage bounced back, yet below the levels reached in 1979-80.
- 40-50% of the people who have ever tried marijuana report a lifetime total of fewer than 12 day of use.
- Regular users are in the minority, but they dominate market demand. 6 million Americans aged 12 and over use marijuana on a daily basis, according to National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2009.
- There’s a clear trend since the 1960s of more potent marijuana offerings, and while marijuana use tended to be “upscale” demographically in the 1960s, the bulk of marijuana consumed today is smoked by people both poorer and less educated.
- Estimates suggest the total market value of marijuana (medical and illicit) at $15 to $30 billion annually (versus estimates of $23 billion for corn and $17 billion for soybeans).
Chapter 3: How is Marijuana Produced and Distributed Today?
- Today in the U.S. marijuana is mostly grown on a small scale, and can be grown outdoors or indoors, with or without soil; the cannabis plant is hardy.
- Unlike cocaine and heroin, marijuana need not be extracted or refined; the dried plant material is the drug.
- With reasonable confidence it is estimated that the majority of marijuana consumed in the U.S. is imported from Mexico (1/2 to 2/3rds); domestic production is the next largest source (1/5th to 2/5th), with smaller amounts imported from Canada, Jamaica, and a few other countries.
- California dominates for outdoor plants (74% of the 9.8 million plants in 2009) and to a lesser extend indoor plants (41% of the 300,000 plants), followed by Washington (indoor and outdoor), Tennessee (outdoor), and Florida (indoor).[Note: we’d suspect that Colorado (indoor) growth may be entering this list if more current data was available].
- Most marijuana entering the U.S. from Mexico is smuggled in by violent drug trafficking organizations.
- The price of marijuana goes up markedly as it moves down the distribution chain from grower to user.
- Commercial-grade marijuana produced in bulk in Mexico (4-6% THC) sells for about $35-$50/pound in Mexico and $200-500/pound just inside the U.S. border, increasing at a wholesale price of ~ $400/pound for every thousand miles away from the Mexican border, reaching $1,000 - $1,400/pound in the East and Northeast.
- Marijuana is so expense primarily because production and distribution are illegal.
Chapter 4: How Stringent Is Marijuana Enforcement in the U.S.?
- In 2010 there were more that 1.6MM state and local arrests for drug violations.
- Less than half of arrests were for marijuana offenses; 46% for possession and 6% for sale/manufacturing.
- With an estimated 30MM Americans users of marijuana per year, only 2.5% of users got arrested.
- Not all marijuana arrests lead to prosecution. Even if convicted, what happens depends on age, number of prior arrests, amount of marijuana possession, and the jurisdiction.
- Alaska has the most lenient statutory sanctions for possession of small quantities: Possession of 1 ounce in private residence is not considered a criminal act and carries no penalty.
- In California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nebraska possession of up to one ounce is consider a civil infraction, or petty act, with no jail time, but fines may range from $100 to $600.
- Reasonable estimates put total incarceration costs at $1.2B (about 40,000 inmates at $30k per year).
- Seven states, referred to as the M7, account for about 90% of marijuana cultivated: California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, and West Virginia.
Chapter 5: What Are The Risks Of Using Marijuana?
- There is no clear evidence on what type of person is the most typical user.
- Epidemiological study by James Anthony and colleagues found that 9% of those that had used marijuana wound up being clinically dependent on marijuana at some point in their lives, males are at a much greater risk than females. Comparable rate for alcohol = 15%; cocaine = 16%.
- Heavy marijuana users can experience withdrawals, but physical discomfort generally pales in comparison to that experience by those with serious addictions to alcohol or heroin.
- Robin Room and colleagues found that marijuana posed less addictive risk than tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, stimulants, or heroin.
- In 2009 marijuana accounted for more than 350,000 drug treatment admissions in the U.S.
- The Center for Disease Control’s WONDER database reports only 26 deaths between 1997 and 2007 due to the use of cannabinoids.
- Marijuana smoke contains carcinogens. What is not clear is whether exposure is great enough to cause cancer.
- Marijuana users generally inhale more deeply than cigarette smokers, but consumer far less marijuana than regular cigarette smokers consume tobacco.
- Kids who use marijuana, particularly those who start marijuana use at a young age, are statistically more likely to go on to use other drugs than their peers who do not use marijuana.
- Being stoned impairs driving performance, but driving stoned isn’t as dangerous as driving drunk, however determining toxicity is a challenged because marijuana can stay in the system for a number of days.
- The two major research projects that follow expectant mothers and their children after birth both found an association between prenatal marijuana exposure and poorer cognitive development, attention and executive functioning.
Chapter 6: What Is Known About The Nonmedical Benefits Of Using Marijuana?
- Astoundingly little, claim the authors.
- Serious scholarship in the U.S. is hamstrung by administrative rules. Only one facility is allowed to grow cannabis for use in research, and that supplier is only allowed to provide it to the government.
- Scientists can’t get legal supplies of research material without applying for a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse; that agency has not proven especially responsive to requests from researchers interested in studying either the benefits or harms of marijuana.
- So while heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, or LSD are available to researchers, marijuana remains an exception.
Chapter 7: What Are The Medicinal Benefits Of Using Marijuana?
- It depends on who you ask.
- U.S. Federal government unwaveringly argues that marijuana has no medicinal value, the states’ positions are mixed.
- Polls conduction In 2010 by ABC News/Washington Post and Pew showed that 8 in 10 respondents supported medicinal marijuana.
- Proponents point to marijuana as having therapeutic value in treating a range of symptoms; among the most common are appetite loss, nausea, chronic pain, anxiety, sleeping disorders, muscle spasms, and intraocular pressure.
- The Federal government has placed marijuana in Schedule I, the category of substances with no accepted medicinal use.
We will not be making any investment recommendations on any marijuana stocks at this time, but we hope that speakers like Dr. Kilmer can help elucidate such topics as policy and legal frameworks, economics of marijuana, and social implications around marijuana legalization and help lay the groundwork for an emerging investment thesis.